Part 2 of my four part series over at The Catholic Weekly. Here’s a taste:
Last time, in this space, I talked about the idea of docility to the Church’s teaching, dogmatic or not. The basic point was simply that we should do as the Church calls us do even when the Church does not bind us under pain of heresy or schism (which is to say, virtually always).
Of course, the obvious reply to this is, “Even when the Church calls us to not report the rape of our child by a priest?”
It’s a perfectly reasonable question. And the obvious answer is “Of course not.” Nobody, not even the Pope can compel us to do evil. Nor can anybody, even the Pope, command us to let evil happen by our inaction. This is what the Church means by the real idea of primacy of conscience. We must do what we know—really know—to be the right thing no matter what. So if, God forbid, somebody is sexually assaulted by a priest, it is vital that it be reported to the cops and the culprit called to account.
What then of the docility I was speaking about last week? Am I not contradicting myself? No, because docility means docility to the Tradition the Magisterium articulates, not to every single thing to come out of a bishop’s or priest’s mouth. When the Church says something like, “The gospel tells us to welcome the stranger” and then says “A reasonable application of that is to not cage children at the border” this is indeed an obvious extrapolation from the gospel. When a priest or bishop tells a victim of rape to keep their mouth shut and not call the cops, this is an obvious violation of the gospel which calls us to protect the least of these. The cleric who does this is not living according to the Tradition but in direct contradiction to it. And it falls to us to obey the gospel, not the cleric, in such a case.
Learning to make such distinctions is a problem as old as the gospel and it is why it behooves each of us to learn the Tradition so that we can obey the Magisterium and discern how to live with true prudence.